Now showing at the Guthrie Theater, playwright Danai Gurira’s Familiar could have you laughing one minute and crying the next. It is not easy to accomplish such a perfect balance between comedy and drama, but Familiar does just that with the help of Gurira’s script, a talented cast, and director Taibi Magar.
Familiar follows a Zimbabwean-American family as they prepare for their daughter Tendi’s (Shá Cage) wedding to a good-hearted white guy named Chris (Quinn Franzen) from Minnetonka. The play takes place in a Minneapolis suburb in the elegant home of biochemist Dr. Marvelous Chinyamurindi (Perri Gaffney) and lawyer Donald Chinyaramwira (Harvy Blanks).
Tendi surprises her family and invites her aunt Anne (Wandachristine) into town to perform a traditional Shona wedding custom called roora, in which Chris will negotiate a bride price. Marvelous is furious and refuses to be apart of the ceremony. The rest of the brilliant ensemble includes Marvelous’ other sister Margaret (Austene Van), a geologist who always has a drink in hand, her youngest daughter Nyasha (Aishé Keita), a feng shui artist and aspiring songwriter, and Chris’ show-stealing younger brother Brad (Michael Wieser).
Although this play is a success on a theatrical level, its importance goes beyond that. Familiar contains five black female characters and is written by a black woman, which is unfortunately uncommon in American theater. Gurira has stated that immigrant stories are not often told very deeply or even at all. Familiar may center on a specific immigrant family, but it is a universal story. The play deals with imperative topics, such as identity and assimilation, and examines how families keep things from one another, either to protect their family members or to avoid dealing with their pain.
Playwright Danai Gurira was born in the Midwestern United States and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe. She attended Macalester College in St. Paul for undergrad and felt that because of the large African population in the Midwest and her personal ties to Minnesota, it was the right place to set the story. Gurira vowed that she would never write a play about her own family, focusing on what she called more “vital” issues. She was at a wedding when she witnessed a clash of cultures and was inspired to write Familiar. While Gurira stated that the family in the play was not a direct depiction of her family, commonalities with her own loved ones and traditions found their way into her tale, making it all the more personal and mesmerizing to watch.
Who: By Danai Gurira. Directed by Taibi Magar.
When: Through April 14.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis.
Tickets: $29-77. 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.